The county government is nearing an agreement with Baltimore to tap into a city-owned aqueduct that runs along Interstate 95, which should prevent a public water supply shortage in the late 1990s.

Tapping into the water line near the tap in Abingdon -- known as the "big inch" -- could provide the county an additional 10 million gallons of water daily.

Public water supply customers now consume about 6 million gallonsdaily.

Bel Air and Aberdeen administrators also have been involved in the negotiations to tap into the water line, which runs from theSusquehanna River above Havre de Grace near Deer Creek to Lake Montebello in Baltimore. They want to expand their water supply to avoid possible shortages.

The county would go to the bond market to raisenearly $34.5 million to pay for building a water treatment plant near Abingdon and laying pipe from the city-owned line to existing county water lines, County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann said.

Those bonds would be paid off through charging user fees, she said.

"I met and talked with Mayor Kurt Schmoke to explain how important this project is to us and to ask him to help expedite negotiations," Rehrmann said.

"Now we're waiting for an analysis on their rate proposal --what rates they would charge us for drawing water."

The executivesaid an agreement could be finalized this spring and design on a $19.5 million water treatment plant could begin this summer. It would cost $15 million more to lay pipe to carry the water from Abingdon to other parts of the county water system.

Drawing water from the big inch would likely have little effect on Baltimore City, which has a permit to draw up to 250 million gallons of water a day from the Susquehanna, public works department administrators said. That's because the city only uses the aqueduct in times of drought.

The rate ranges depend on a variety of factors, including how much water the towns of Bel Air and Aberdeen will need, said Jackie Ludwig, a county senior sanitary engineer. She said an analysis of the rates proposed by Baltimore officials should be complete in about two weeks.

"We are discussing a couple of different scenarios, but the rates would go to the year 2009," she said. "Once negotiations are over, we could design the (water treatment) plant this summer and have it operating by 1994 or 1995."

Ludwig said public works administrators are concernedbecause population projections show customer demand will equal the county's water supply between 1994 and 1996.

"We have 22,835 countywater customers, and we're predicting an additional 1,200 customers a year," she said.

Each county resident uses an average of 120 gallons of water daily, Ludwig said.

To supply its customers, the county buys 2 million gallons of water a day from the city of Havre de Grace, whose water system draws from the Susquehanna River. The county also draws 4.2 million gallons a day from county-owned wells in Perryman. A county-owned water treatment plant in Havre de Grace opens in the next six weeks, providing 4 million gallons of water a day.

Like Havre de Grace, Bel Air and Aberdeen have water systems that areseparate from the county's system. Aberdeen runs its own treatment plants, and Bel Air residents are serviced by the privately owned Maryland-American Water Co. Maryland-American draws water from Winters Run.

As a result of rapid growth, the three towns face the same problem as the county, so town and county administrators are trying to take advantage of a state law that gives them permission to draw water from the city's line.

Bel Air Administrator William McFaul said Wednesday that the town has not decided whether to try to buy Maryland-American.


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